“Dementia” refers to various potential diagnoses (such as Alzheimer’s) that can affect one’s ability to care for themselves and remember people, details, and processes. It is not uncommon in a person’s later years, and a dementia sufferer may become unable to remain independent without assistance.
If you are caring for parents with dementia at home, you may at times feel overwhelmed, tired or anxious that you aren’t meeting your loved one’s needs or that the demands, at times, exceed your capabilities.
Here are some tips that may help you care for your parents in an accessible, fruitful way and also protect your family members’ and your own well-being.
Keeping the Home Safe
- Adding handrails to stairs
- Using non-slip surfaces like grip tape
- Removing trip hazards like rugs
- Storing away sharp objects that could be knocked over or fallen on
- Installing brighter lights
- Securing hazardous materials like cleaning agents or medications
- Making sure doors leading to the outside can be locked
The exact changes that should be made will depend on the structure of your home, your parent’s mobility, and how far along their condition has progressed. Always remain vigilant to identify new changes that may need to be made over time.
Your parents may become frustrated with a gradual decline in their ability to do tasks independently, including bathing, eating, hobbies and transport. Recognizing their increasing impairment, they will often deny or cover it up out of embarrassment and fear.
As the caregiver, it is important that you affirm their feelings—let them know that you understand they are frustrated or sad and are being heard but that you still love them and it isn’t their fault. You might help take steps to help them keep as much autonomy as possible by:
- Establishing a reminder strategy that helps them remember to do tasks
- Asking before helping the person to do a task
- Allowing your parent to attempt a (safe) task on their own first
- Using accessibility products, such as Velcro clothing and shower stools
- Asking for their opinion before making a decision, and involving them in the decision
As your parents become less and less able to tackle the projects and tasks they once completed with ease, they may become stressed and agitated. Even the setup of their living environment can contribute to stress, which may increase blood pressure and cause unwanted health side effects. To reduce stress, consider the following:
- Removing heavily patterned materials (like curtains) that may be difficult for them to comprehend visually
- Structuring the day around planned quiet times for rest and decompression, and avoiding rush situations
- Establishing a predictable routine for eating, activities, and bedtime
- Allotting extra time for the person to complete tasks, so they don’t feel rushed
- Keeping familiar pictures and possessions nearby for a greater sense of security
- Conversing with the person like normal, even when they forget what they’ve just said or who you are
- Redirecting your parent away from frustrating activities if they are having a hard time and need a break
You can make a big difference by identifying the things that may be stressing your parents. Remember to respect their personal space and boundaries unless doing so would cause them harm.
Remaining physically active can become difficult in one’s older years regardless of whether or not they are concurrently experiencing dementia. However, dementia adds an additional layer of complexity that can make physical activity challenging. To encourage your parent to stay active, try the following:
- Taking charge of planning by starting an activity and asking your parent to join
- Incorporating small activities—like walking to get the mail—as mini-workouts
- Offering meal choices that are healthy so that your parent can make their own choice but are still exposed to healthful foods
- Matching what they can do to potential activities so that their work never exceeds their capacity
- Tying physical activity to other hobbies, e.g., listening to music and then moving with the music
- Doing tasks together, so they don’t feel alone
You will be the best identifier of how much physical activity your loved one can handle. Remember that any activity is better than none, and they do not need to complete a workout in the gym to be considered active.
Seek Resources from the Experts to Help You Navigate This Change
Being a caregiver can be a tiring and daunting experience, and many caregivers do not ask for the help that is available and that they may need. However, you don’t have to shoulder this challenge alone. The experts at Shepherd’s Center of Northern Virginia offer community, resources, and companionship to help elders age in place, regardless of the progression of their dementia.
We can connect you with the resources you need to help your parents stay active and adjust to their new life with dementia. Reach out to learn more about how to help your parents thrive or organizations you can work with to receive help with home modifications, accessibility options, and more.